Atonement

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I am reading “the Reconciling Wisdom of God: Reframing the Doctrine of the Atonement” by Adam J. Johnson.  He suggests that Wisdom is an orchestrating attribute that best draws together all the aspects of the Atonement: penal substitution, reconciliation, sacrifice, victory, justification, propitiation, liberation, new creation, etc.

“Here the wisdom of the atonement has a decisive role to play. Attending to the fact that Christ’s atoning work was a work of wisdom brings powerfully to mind the way in which God, through one simple means, brings about a massive range of purposes. The means in questions is clearly the death and resurrection of the incarnate Son of God by the will of the Father and in the power of the Spirit, and the abundant range of purposes we have already seen in the previous chapter…”  p. 97

That got me thinking…

If Justice is the governing theory, why didn’t God simply judge? In love he sent his Son.

If Love is the governing theory, why didn’t God just accept us in an act of kindness?  To satisfy justice he sent his son.

If Honor is God’s reason, why did Christ accept humiliation for us?

If God’s Glory was rejected, why did he bother to send his Son? The heavens declare the Glory of God.

If Christ came to win a Victory over death, why did he die?  Sin brings death, but Christ brought the resurrection.

If Alienation is the problem, why didn’t God invite us to return, with no questions asked?  He sent his son as a Shepherd to seek and save the lost.

If Error is the problem, why didn’t God stop at giving revelation of the truth?  He sent his Son to be a teacher and a sacrifice and the Spirit to bring his word to us.

If Corruption of our nature is the central problem, why prevents God from purifying us?

If Enslavement to sin is the problem, why can’t he just set us free.  Redemption takes a price.

I am not sure Johnson gets it right to say that in his Wisdom God found the best, most complete way to work out salvation.  But He is right that the Atonement is not one simple thing – all the attributes of God are in play.  The Trinity is united in the multi-faceted work of Atonement.

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Gateways to the Atonement

This sermon clip sums up the idea behind my @ONE series at church this Lent season.

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We have been talking about the Atonement.  I compared the atonement to the city of Jerusalem. In the center of the city is the place where people could meet God.  But one had to get there and to get into the city you had to enter one of the gates.

In the same way, the Atonement is the work of God that allows us to know God’s forgiveness and presence.  It is what restores what was broken and reconciles those who are far apart.

The Atonement is the truth that Christ died for us.  By the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus we have the gift of Salvation.

            We who have come to Jesus and by Jesus have come to know the grace of God, have each come in a different way.  These are like the gates of the city.  Our goal is to get to the place of God’s presence, but we are drawn in by one or another gateway into the city.

What are these gateways?

  • Ransom – sin has humanity in its power. It is like a slave master and God purchases our freedom in Jesus. Some know the atonement first through the payment that brought us freedom.
  • Reconciliation – sin has broken the relationship God gave us at the start – we are not friends but enemies of God. By his death for us, Jesus bridged the gap between God and sinners and make reconciliation possible.
  • Substitution – Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away our sins –we may have become aware of our sinfulness first and rejoiced in the substation of Jesus.
  • Satisfaction – If we have any idea of God’s holiness – which is hard for us to understand because we live in a culture that celebrates and makes money off of unholiness of every kind. God’s holiness is a treat to us because of our unholiness. Those who know the fear of God’s wrath are drawn to the idea that Jesus bore the full measure of our punishment.
  • Rebirth – those who are spiritually dead may not even be aware that they are. Nicodemus did not know he needed to be reborn.   Many have come through the offer if New Birth – the John 3:16 gate.
  • Shed Blood – we saw how the people of Israel offered sacrifices every day, week and year for hundreds of years. This shed blood made atonement, but which had to be repeated over and over. Jesus death and his shed blood is the once and final payment for sin.  No longer do we need to go to the temple to offer scrrivice, but we need only believe in Jesus to be saved.

These are all parts of one reality that we can call the Atonement.  Just as one Jerusalem had many gates, and just as one diamond has many facets, so the Atonement has different parts, but when we receive it we receive all of it.  Let’s say you drive into Madison and you came by way of East Washington.  Can you say you know Madison if that is all you see. To be a real citizen of the city you need to know all the important places in the city.  If you know Madison, you totally get this map:

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So with Salvation, to know what Christ has done, you need to know all the important parts of the work of Atonement.

Light and Love in I John

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“If love is understood in an abstract and fairly impersonal way, then it becomes difficult to see how, in the same God, such love can co-exist with wrath.  But the Scriptures treat God’s love in more dynamic ways…”  D. A. Carson, “Atonement in Romans 3:21-26” in “The Glory of the Atonement”, ed C. E. Hill and F. A. James III.

We struggle with how a God of Love just does not say, “forgive and forget.”  Some accuse the scriptures themselves of paganism, where sacrifices are offered to appease an angry God.  Yet it is God who initiates the work of Salvation – see John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he sent….”  Paganism was an attempt to appease a God or gods by human effort.  The Gospel is God satisfying God.

We find this in the book of I John. The word for Propitiation, or Atoning Sacrifice (Gk, hilasmos) is found in two places.  I John 2:2 and I John 4:10.  What is interesting is that I John 2:2 is tied to a statement about God, that “God is Light.”  This means something like God is True and God is Righteous, for the context of the passage speaks of truth and of sin.

In the particular passage, I John 1:5-2:2, the idea that God is Light and that we are darkness (sinful) is resolved by the blood of Christ (1:7) as part of being the atoning sacrifice (2:2).

I John 1:5-2:2

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

In I John 4:7-17, we find love.  We find the statement that “God is Love.”  This passage does not say that God thus decides that we are worthy of love or that his love is unconditional. Rather it is conditional upon the “atoning sacrifice” (v. 10) of Christ.  God’s love is resolved by his action of providing a sacrifice: “This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” v. 9.  Love is not in the Bible a cost free and general inclusion, but rather it is a costly sacrifice enabling inclusion.

This is exactly what Carson meant in the quote at the top. In the abstractions of Love and Holiness or Kindness and Justice we find questions such as” How could a loving God requrie blood sacrifice?”   In the concrete passages of scripture we find something else; we find an affirmation that the love of God is expressed in his own provision for us.  He sent his beloved son to be a sacrifice for sin.

I John 4:7-12

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

Reconciliation

blacklogoMy @ONE series on the Atonement is progressing.  On the aspect of Atonement that has to do with Reconciliation, I had come in my thinking to think of things like racial and national reconciliation.  That is all certainly in view.  Yet the methods of reconciliation among us usually deals with mutual interests, cultural competency, empathy, and other actions that come from us to others.

The need for Reconciliation to God has receded in our cultural thinking, for of course God is love and accepts all people.  Yet….

In the key passages of scripture the idea of Reconciliation is centered on the work of the Cross of Christ.  God does the reconciling and it is cruciform.

One passage is 2 Corinthians 5:18-21.  Here is my syntactical outline.  First of all, it is all from God. Then the work is accomplished by Christ (underlined portions) and our part is to be messengers (yellow highlight).  Not counting trespasses (v. 19) is not because God does not keep a record, but because he put the trespasses on Christ (v. 21).

At the top of the whole discussion is this statement “All this is from God.”

Capture

the yet in-progress sermon is this

I. Reconciliation is God’s work v. 18a

II. God Reconciled us by the death of Christ (underlined)

III. God Reconciles the world by the Gospel (yellow)

 

Thinking about 2015-2016

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I have these three sermon series titled, details to follow.

Dual Citizenship: Living in the world

  • How can we be citizens of the world and citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven at the same time?

@ONE – The Atonement

  • What are all the aspects of the work of Christ that makes us One with God?

Name that Child – Isaiah 9:6

  • You know the name from Handel’s Messiah, but do you know what it means?